Question about 'garbage bag' leaf composting

linnea56(z5 IL)November 4, 2008

I wanted to ask those of you who do the "garbage bag" leaf composting technique: How many holes do you put in? Just enough for the rain to get in or lots? The heat of composting kills any weed seeds this way, right? Will it still work in shade? Will it be compost by spring or does it take longer?

I can maybe hide a few bags under the evergreens out back. The yard is small and theres really no place to hide them except there. We made a big wire bin in the back corner against the wooden fence, but it was full immediately.


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i don't think it'll turn into black compost by spring time if you simply just store the leaves in leaf-bags. i can relate to what you're saying about having limited space and not really being able to set up a traditional compost bin/pile. what i do is simply rake my leaves into a big pile, and then shred them with my electric mulch blower. then i empty out the ground up leaves collected in the blower and spread them out all over my beds. by shredding the leaves up into smaller pieces, it's easier and quicker for them to decompose into the ground. give that a shot and let me know how it works out!

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 4:44PM
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I do almost the same, I get all the leaves on the driveway and mow them into the bag and then dump on my beds. They breakdown and add nutrients back into the soil, they look better IMO than bare earth and since their in little bitty pieces they stay put and don't blow around. As an added bonus, no raking off come spring. Just plant in it.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 6:02PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

I don't think you can get true composting done in plastic bags with rain water added. Compost has to get VERY hot, to kill weed seeds. You need to turn the piled foliage, get air into it, in a good compost pile. Not a static thing, creating compost, but can be real work. The bags would melt at those composting temps, which are way over 100 degrees when done correctly. Compost piles smoke from the heat of working organisms. The bags DO help "tenderize?" the leaves with water and sun heat on the dark plastic over winter season. May reduce them to a more wet, sludge type mass for spreading in spring. More broken down than fallen leaves, but not crumbled dirt. I don't think you could call bag contents compost though.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 9:31PM
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Just leaves in a plastic bag wet down by rain water will not become compost - it will eventually become leaf mold. And it's a cold process; it will not heat up and can take two to three years to accomplish in cold climates.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 12:51PM
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john_4b(z4b WI)

I agree, wet leaves left in bags will eventually become leaf mold. It is really good stuff, too, and it can be used to topdress beds, or as a soil amendment when planting.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 2:20PM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

To get the best use out of the largest possible quantity of leaves, shred and use as mulch. You can either spread the mulch now or bag it, store it in the garage and use it throughout the summer. A bag of shredded leaves also makes a handy source of browns for the compost pile in midsummer, when not much else is brown.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2008 at 12:22PM
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I found these insstructions at

There are a number of recipes for plastic bag composting on the Internet. This article is a compilation of many. It includes informative articles from Texas A&M, University of Minnesota, and Nancy Szerlag. COMPOST is Mother Nature's way of recycling plant material into a substance that is beneficial to our soil. Compost improves soil structure by helping to break up heavy clay soils making them more granular, and increasing the water holding capacity of sandy soils. In addition, composting can, but not always, contain a good range of plant nutrients.


Containers for making compost vary from a simple chicken wire cylinder to a fancy rotating drum. But the simplest of all is a black plastic garbage bag. Plastic bag composting is perhaps the simplest of all composting methods requiring no structure other than a black plastic garbage bag. The bags should be 30 to 40 gallon in size and at least 3 ml. in thickness. This size bag should hold approximately 3 bushels of organic materials.


And the simplest and most abundant material to compost is leaves. A similar plastic bag (you can turn a multipurpose compost or bark chip bag inside-out) can be used to produce leaf-mold, but it needs to be perforated all over with a garden fork to admit air. You can either rake up the leaves, or collect them in the bagger of a lawn mower. Fill the plastic bag with leaf material, add one shovel full of soil - this supplies the needed microorganisms that ultimately degrade the leaves. A splash of water is needed to moisten the dry leaves and a handful of high nitrogen fertilizer to feed the microorganisms. If you mowed up the leaves, there is no need to add the fertilizer since the accompanying grass clippings will provide sufficient nitrogen. Give the bag a shake and place it in the shade. Then periodically flip the bag over to redistribute the contents and incorporate a bit of air. This method is a good alternative for those of us unable to turn a standard compost pile regularly, or have limited space in our backyard garden.


Fill with a suitable mix of material, add a tablespoonful of balanced fertilizer (Grow more or Fish Blood and Bone), 1 liter of water and a cupful of lime, to counteract the extra acidity of the anaerobic process. Fill in situ for ease of handling. Close tightly to exclude air and leave for about six months to a year. No attention is required and the bag can be concealed behind shrubs.


For best decomposition, try to place a combination of both brown and green organic materials in the bag. To each bag add 1 cup of ammonium nitrate and about 1/4 cup of hydrated lime (in this case lime is used to counteract the acidity that will occur under anaerobic conditions within the bag). Then add about a quart of water, close the bag tightly and set it aside for six months to a year. You should not have to turn the mixture or add water after closing the bag. If possible, set bags in a sunny spot where they can absorb heat. In the winter, move bags to a heated garage or basement.


Plastic bag composting is convenient, but, like pit composting, the process occurs mainly under anaerobic conditions and much slower than composting in well-ventilated structures.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 9:06PM
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